Until last year, none of us at Reason Foundation knew whether Lanny Friedlander, the creator of Reason magazine, was even still alive. He had dropped out of sight in the mid-1970s, and none of us had ever heard from him as the magazine grew into a serious publication, initially under the auspices of Reason Enterprises and, since 1978, as the flagship publication of the Reason Foundation. But last year a former Foundation board member used various online search tools to find out that Lanny was still alive, but in a naval hospital on the East Coast.
I met Lanny in autumn 1969, when I went to Boston for Ayn Rand's annual lecture at the Ford Hall Forum. During the previous year I'd been a subscriber to the mimeographed Reason magazine he'd begun publishing in May 1968 as a student at Boston University. Via phone and letter, he'd persuaded me to research and write an article for it. The piece (calling for airline deregulation) appeared in the September 1969 issue, the first one to be typeset and offset-printed (and with my article as the cover story). The graphic design was fresh and clean, and the overall look was very professional. I was blown away and decided to visit Lanny while in Boston, with the idea of getting involved in publishing the magazine. Alas, my notes from that initial visit reflect dismay at this bright and creative but very disorganized young man. In my journal I wrote, "He doesn't have much interest in business details, and I'm not too impressed with his ability to make a financial success of it." I did not pursue the idea of getting involved in the business.
My assessment was borne out in 1970, when the magazine began appearing irregularly, and Lanny would call periodically to ask for money to keep it going. Rather than send money, my new friend Tibor Machan and I began brainstorming the idea of buying Lanny out, creating some sort of business to turn Reason into a serious national publication. Along with Manny Klausner and several others, we created Reason Enterprises as a publishing partnership for this purpose. Tibor, a philosophy PhD candidate, had a grant to organize a political philosophy conference, and that provided funds to fly Lanny to California, where we negotiated the acquisition. The deal included an initial six-month contract under which Lanny would continue as editor while the rest of us handled both marketing and production. Unfortunately, the working relationship with Lanny was very difficult, and the initial contract was not renewed.
Over the next year or two, libertarian friends back East reported that Lanny had moved to New York and gotten a job with a graphic design firm. He showed up occasionally at libertarian gatherings. Once in awhile we got a note from him, mostly related to things he'd seen in the magazine, but after awhile they stopped coming. Only recently did we learn that he'd subsequently joined the Navy, apparently after having broken up with a girlfriend. His obituary reports that he served on board the USS Forrestal "during the Vietnam War," which must have been during its closing years.
During all the years of Reason magazine's growth, I was dismayed that we never again heard from Lanny, and we all wondered whether he had met an untimely demise. Only yesterday (March 25) did I learn that Lanny had recently written (by hand) a short note to Reason science correspondent Ron Bailey commenting on one of his recent articles. Ron shared a photocopy of it, and it had the familiar look of hand-written notes from Lanny 30-odd years ago.
I'm filled with both gratitude and sadness at the news of Lanny's death. There would be no Reason magazine without Lanny's original work in creating it, so we are all very much in his debt. I'm glad that he lived to see it become the kind of national magazine he'd originally envisaged back in his student days at Boston University. But I'm sad that he apparently was never able to make full use of his design, writing, and editing talents.
Robert Poole is director of transportation at the Reason Foundation. He is a former editor of Reason magazine and a trustee of Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes this website. He lives in Florida.
For more memories of Lanny Friedlander from Bob Poole, Tibor Machan, Manny Klausner, and others, read "40 Years of Free Minds and Free Markets: An Oral History of Reason," which appeared in our December 2008 issue.
Lanny Friedlander's burial service will take place in Massachusetts on Monday, March 28. The service is being arranged by the Blake Funeral Home, whose site includes an online guest book.